Steve Martin is a man of many media. In movies, he’s played a jerk and an amigo and the father of a bride. On TV, he’s been a wild and crazy guy. For museum exhibitions, he’s lent pieces from his extensive collection of 20th-century artists, including Edward Hopper and Francis Bacon. To paper he’s committed serious novels (“Shopgirl”) and breezy plays (“Picasso at the Lapin Agile”).
So what’s left? A musical?
Yes, actually. A musical.
“Bright Star,” the bluegrass-inflected show that Martin wrote with Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Edie Brickell, will be presented at the Kennedy Center this holiday season, the center announced Tuesday. It will run from Dec. 2 to Jan. 10 in the Eisenhower Theater, its only stop before an anticipated opening on Broadway next spring.
Although this is yet another new avenue for the 69-year-old Martin, it is also, he says, a familiar one. “I grew up on musicals, with ‘The Music Man’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Oklahoma!,’ ” Martin said, in a joint phone interview with Brickell. “The songs were so singable. I went to ‘Gypsy’ five or six years ago, and I was crying from the opening.”
Brickell, too, said she gravitated naturally to the form: “I grew up in a house where my mother was always singing. When I saw musicals, it made me feel a joy and a connection to song.”
With Martin writing the book, Brickell the lyrics and both of them the music, they assembled “Bright Star,” a tale they said was suggested in part by an event Brickell read about in a newspaper. (They also had collaborated on a CD of bluegrass music, 2013’s “Love Has Come for You.”) The musical, set in North Carolina in the 1940s just after World War II and flashing back two decades earlier, focuses on a young man who comes home from the war with dreams of being a writer. It was first produced in the fall at the Old Globe theater in San Diego, where Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty found it to be a “quaint” show with a “luscious” score.
“ ‘Bright Star,’ proud of its folksiness, wears its old-fashioned heart on its gingham sleeve,” McNulty wrote. That quality of sincerity is what led Broadway producer Joey Parnes to sign on in 2013, after seeing a developmental version at New York Stage and Film on the campus of Vassar College. He provided enhancement money for the San Diego production, directed by Walter Bobbie (of “Chicago” fame), who remains with the project.
The 18-member cast for Washington has not been announced.
“There’s something that Steve and Edie have captured together that I think is rare for a Broadway musical,” said Parnes, whose current hit, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” won the Tony for best musical last year. “I thought the score was fantastic and the story was very emotional. The Old Globe production confirmed for me that this was a really great musical.”
In this case, the Kennedy Center was the beneficiary of a shortage of available Broadway theaters for incoming musicals. The backlog may approach historic levels: Parnes said he put the show on waiting lists with Broadway landlords two years ago. While some musicals may jump the line — witness the fast transfer of this past winter’s off-Broadway sensation “Hamilton” — others such as “Bright Star” bide their time until one of the 40 Broadway houses suitable for an intimate musical of this kind becomes vacant.
“I had hoped for a theater this fall,” Parnes said, adding that he also became aware that the Kennedy Center had an open slot. He contacted Max Woodward, the center’s producer. “I said, ‘Hey, Max, I think I can do us both a favor.’ Necessity is the mother of invention. And once we made the choice, Steve and Edie and Walter and I said this is the plan we should have had from the beginning.”
A celebrity affiliation isn’t a bad leg up, especially for an original musical. But worldwide fame only went so far on Broadway last season for Sting, whose freshman musical, “The Last Ship,” ended up in drydock after a few disappointing months. Parnes said the quality of Martin’s and Brickell’s work in other spheres will certainly increase interest, although part of the job of managing expectations will be to explain that “Bright Star” is not a laugh riot — and that neither Martin nor Brickell appears in it.
That was one of the attractions for Martin. “It’s so great for me not to be performing,” he said, adding that he has been rewriting portions of the book since the San Diego production; one song has been cut and another inserted. During the writing, he said: “We woke up every day excited. As a solo performer, you just love it when someone else has a great idea.”
Brickell, who has been married for more than 20 years to Martin’s friend singer-songwriter Paul Simon, said the absolute trust flowed both ways.
The warm feelings apparently apply as well to Washington, where Martin says he performed one of his first professional concerts and in 2007 was the recipient of theKennedy Center Honors.
“We’re looking at the Kennedy Center as the show being set for Broadway, not as a tryout,” Martin said. “I don’t think anybody is viewing the Kennedy Center as ‘out of town.’ We’re viewing it as ‘town.’ ”